Stealing an idea from Slacktivist, I will be sharing older posts here. This one, from August 2006, still seems relevant today, especially in light of recent discussions of millenials leaving the church.
When I was at Wheaton I had witnessed the exodus of students from low-church settings into less evangelical, more high-church type of settings. Many “go Catholic.” What I have seen is somewhat of a liberalizing path that leads to Rome. I’ve written about this before, wondering if it is possible to overcome Noll’s scandal of the evangelical mind and remain evangelical, but a recent article in The Christian Century explored this issue.
In the past year, six Protestant theologians have converted to Catholicism, and of the six, three are Lutheran, two Anglican, and one Mennonite:
“They more or less fit the description ‘postliberal’ in that they accept such mainline practices as historical criticism and women's ordination while wanting the church to exhibit more robust dogmatic commitments. All of them embrace what Mattox describes as an ‘evangelical, catholic and orthodox’ vision of the church. They could not see a way to be all those things within mainline denominations.”
Rusty Reno, one of the converts, had at one time held that those who are disgruntled with their faith traditions should not leave. Instead, the correct path, according to Scripture, is to follow Nehemiah, who committed to living in a devastated city. Reno maintained that “to flee institutions in search of something supposedly better elsewhere would be to simply replicate the modern tendency to favor a posture of ironic distance over one of dogged commitment.”
Reno eventually left his original faith tradition. He shares, “I may have wanted to return to the ruins of the Church with Nehemiah's devotion, but in reality I was thinking bitter thoughts as I sat in my pew.” To another convert, a Lutheran, “the pull” of the Catholic faith grew stronger than “the push” away from Lutheranism.
Gerald Schlabach, the Mennonite convert, criticizes the Protestant church for becoming an end in itself instead of being a proponent of reform. He views the Catholic Church as
“the best hope for a reunion of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative,’ ‘protestant’ and ‘catholic’ visions of the church: ‘Imagine a church . . . that could not sing without feeding the poor, nor feed the poor without nourishment from the Eucharist, nor pass the peace without living peaceably in the world, nor be peacemakers without depending on prayer, nor pray without joining in robust song.’”
The article does include arguments for staying within one’s tradition. One Episcopal priest argues that it is crucial to remain inside what he considers a tradition ridden with flaws: “God has allowed us to come to faith and to practice our faith within divided Christian communities so that, forced to follow Jesus where we have been placed, we might learn repentance.” He points to Scripture’s narrative of the Jews, who didn’t leave their community when they became disgruntled: “rather they stayed where they were and tried to help the people be more faithful to the law of the Lord.” Israel is not only a model, but Jesus is too, since he stayed put and died for his enemies.
One of the converts’ colleagues happens to be Stanley Hauerwas. He has prodded his students to explore Catholic theology. When it comes to converting to Catholicism, however, his preference is loyalty to the dissenter’s church of origin, remarking, “I feel like you need to stay with the people that harmed you.” And to those who feel the urge to make the move to Catholicism, Hauerwas says, “Don’t do it. We need you!” No matter who is converting to what or choosing to stay, I’m sure this issue will cause a stir on all sides.